NURTURING THE WHOLE SELF
As a mother, it has become easy for me to define nurturing as something I give to others–whether in marriage, mothering, friendship, creative pursuits, or service–but I’m slowly realizing as life increasingly grows more full and complex (even in the best ways), I simply cannot give much of anything without first receiving. There is a reason flight attendants remind passengers in the event of an emergency to give oxygen to themselves before helping another: it’s not always instinctive. To most mothers, it might even seem counter-intuitive.
Honestly, I’m not always good about protecting and maintaining self-care practices. Even though I have always been attentive to food and exercise, at times even these practices have been harsh, a perfectionistic pursuit detached from the rhythm and season of life. This has more often led me to crash-and-burn type cycles, rather than discovering a steady way to love and take care of myself right where I am. At some point two years ago, I decided I didn’t have the energy to expend on rigid exercise regimes and stopped almost altogether. In terms of longevity and wellness, that’s not really a great option either.
This year, I’ve felt the need more than ever to strengthen the whole of me again, to pay attention to my changing body, skin, energy, and emotions, to nurture and nourish myself from the inside out, not just just merely “get in shape.” At 37, I believe my best self is still in front of me, opposed to a shadow in the past to whom I’m trying to make my way back. 2016 is teaching me about gentleness and patience with myself, in short how to allow my whole self to unfold. And so I’m beginning this new series Nurturing Wholenss here, where I hope to share gentle practices I’m learning along the way.
The deeper I grow into womanhood, the more I recognize the importance of morning rituals–gentle, patterned ways for me to begin a new day. I learned this from my own mother, who from my earliest memories was always up before me, reading and journaling, drinking warm English tea, talking with my father, or listening to morning talk radio while she made breakfast. We tease her now, how she would wake us for school with her chipper songs and loud movements in the kitchen, as though she had lived half a day already. In some ways, she had.
Although I prefer waking naturally (with the sun), I began setting a morning alarm several years ago to wake early in the morning before both the children and the sun. I couldn’t do such things in the earliest years of motherhood, when nights were at times as wakeful as the day. Life with small children and babies is rarely divided into equal parts: some hours are lit by the sun; many are lit by the moon. I found myself a more sane person working with our unusual home rhythms in that stage: sleeping as much as possible at night, briefly napping during the day, and waking to snuggles or coos from my earliest birds, often ready for breakfast. That too was a morning ritual of its own. Still as our family grew, I noted on the rare mornings I naturally woke before the kids, our days felt a bit smoother. My busy days with them naturally stemmed from a more peaceful, nourished place within me. I felt a bit more prepared for the questions, “what are we going to do today?” I decided then to be more intentional about this beginning portion of my day and six short years later, this is why I still wake early.
Friends often remark to me that they could never wake early because they’re not a morning person. I assure you, I am not naturally a morning person either. I like to wake slowly and quietly. I don’t enjoy talking when I first wake up, even when I’m fully rested. Waking earlier, although harder at first, has given me the space for silence and thought that I need before having to offer anything to anyone else in a day. I have used this brief period of time in different ways over the years. Morning rituals are more an art than a science. The intention is that this period of time always serves what I’m needing to restore in that specific season.
MY CURRENT PRACTICES
Currently, I set my alarm for 5am on weekdays, since it’s difficult for me to find uninterrupted time during the days with homeschooling right now. After brushing my teeth, I’ll drink a full glass of water and spend a few minutes stretching, praying, and/or meditating. I do this long enough to feel awake and present. I then refill another glass of water and make a cup of coffee. I light a candle at my desk (an idea I borrowed here from my friend, Kirsten) and write a blog post or edit photos until 6:45 or 7am. I try to save emails for later in the day since they don’t often require as much concentration, and I try my best to avoid social media and my phone altogether. as they can distract me from my own voice and time constraint. Two to three mornings a week, I fill a water bottle after stretching and pick up my sister for simple strengthening workouts at the gym together (a new habit I’m making space for this year, and part of the reason for more sporadic posting here). I’ll share more about that another time. At 7am, it’s time for me to transition to breakfast, and this of course is the hardest part, especially when I’m in the midst of good writing flow. On those days, I jot down a few notes and stop anyway to start my day with Mark and then the kids. I blow out my candle, a signifier that this period of quiet is over until tomorrow. I wake up the kids, and sit down with Mark for a few minutes before he’s out the door. In the wake of busy family life, these few moments can mean much in our marriage. The kids and I then begin making our breakfast and aim to meet at the dining table at 7:30am for read-a-loud and memory work. We’re not overly rigid about this routine, but I find having simple goals keeps us focused and an early start leaves more room in the afternoon for whimsy.
IDEAS TO ESTABLISH NURTURING MORNING RITUALS FOR YOURSELF
wake at the same time daily / Each person has different Circadian Rhythms, leanings toward morning or evening energy. Regardless of when your day begins, aim to wake at the same time daily to create consistent rhythms through the rest of your day.
unplug / This is the most obvious and yet the most difficult for me to follow. My alarm is on my phone, so it’s natural that I’d begin checking social medias or email from my bed to begin. I’m re-training myself to do other things first. It’s easier for me to hear myself think and not be distracted by what other’s are doing. The focus of this time isn’t to produce or connect, it’s to nurture my soul, to restore and wake up for the day. My day. I’ve learned it’s best to save emails and social connections for later in the morning after I’ve had some time alone.
hydrate / According to this study, mild dehydration in women directly affects focus and mood. It can lead to headaches and decreased energy throughout the day. Since I tend to forget drinking water as consistently later in the busy day, I always begin my morning by drinking a full glass or two of water first thing in the morning. It always helps wake me up, and generally I feel more alert and attentive from the start.
stretch, meditate, pray / Taking time, even five to ten minutes, for stretching helps me connect with my body. I tend to notice if I’m sore or inflexible in specific areas. I notice stress–I generally get a knot in my top right shoulder–or anxiety in my stomach and am able to begin releasing those things physically through movement and spiritually through prayer.
read or write / Journal, blog, write a letter or a poem. Writing can be restorative, as can reading.
drink coffee or tea / This is one of my favorite parts of the morning. The smell of coffee comforts me and feels kindred to writing and reading practices, but if I’m feeling anxious on a particular morning, I’ll wait until later in the morning, as it can upset my stomach.
play soft music / I don’t do this every morning, but I find playing music is always soothing to my soul. I tend to choose instrumental music during this time so I don’t become distracted with lyrics. My current favorite album for the early morning is Bethel’s “Without Words Synesthesia” or Balmorhea’s “Balmorhea.”
make your bed / I know. This is mom-ish thing to write, but making my bed somehow makes the space and my day feel more orderly.
take a walk / Sometimes it’s nice just to be outdoors in the early morning, especially when the sun rises. Walking doesn’t require tons of focus, but it can be a quiet way to wake up your body and soul for the day ahead. Physical exercise can be a great way for many people to begin a day.